I spent a couple of years of my childhood in Patna and in 1988, was studying at an all-girls convent in that city. One day, we had a new girl in class. A 13-year-old, British born and bred but whose parents had emigrated to the UK and were now back in their hometown. I suspect our class teacher had a high opinion of my English-speaking skills, so she put me in charge of this new girl. Little did our teacher know that all my encyclopaedic knowledge of British life gained through Enid Blyton novels could not help me one bit in understanding this girl's marked British accent!
I tried for a couple of days but I used to be cripplingly shy at the time, and her English intimidated me. Willy-nilly, we reduced our interactions to the purely transactional. I would give her all the notes she had missed and help her in understanding some instructions being issued by various teachers.
For the rest, I left her to fend for herself. My 13-year old self was preoccupied with my own friends and my own concerns.
Fast forward to exactly 30 years later, and Y, herself a new girl in school, is given charge of a Korean kid (let's call her J) who has recently moved to the US and doesn't know a word of English. My daughter helps her to a degree that fills my heart with maternal pride. She uses google translate, sits with J in class and during recess and becomes proficient at rudimentary sign language in order to communicate. She goes over and above the call of duty to help someone who is finding it difficult to acclimatize in a new environment.
I wish, all those years ago, I had extended the same kind of helping hand to my classmate whose name I don't remember now. I wouldn't now be filled with regret for having been indifferent to her plight! Looking back, I can think of a hundred little ways in which I could have made her school days easier.
In hindsight, not doing something also teaches us important life lessons. If I hadn't felt regret, I might have never learnt how important it is to go by the spirit and not just the letter of helpfulness. And possibly I may never have inculcated that spirit in my kids.
I console myself by thinking this. That in my non-action were sown the seeds of some good actions that followed.